By Tenzin Dharpo
DHARAMSHALA, Oct. 14: US Assistant Secretary for Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Robert A. Destro will also serve as the new U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, the US Secretary Mike Pompeo revealed Wednesday.
An official press release said that the newly appointed official will lead U.S. efforts to promote dialogue between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Dalai Lama or his representatives; protect the unique religious, cultural, and linguistic identity of Tibetans; and press for their human rights to be respected.
He also will support U.S. efforts to address the humanitarian needs of Tibetan refugees and to promote sustainable economic development and environmental conservation in Tibetan communities on the plateau, it added.
Secretary Desto tweeted on Wednesday, “I am proud to serve as the @StateDept’s Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues. I look forward to engaging Tibetans and our partners around the world to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms for Tibet in the PRC and beyond.”
Tibetans and pro-Tibet groups have welcomed the appointment. MP Dorjee Tsetan said, “This appointment is a strong statement that the United States and its people will uphold democracy and freedom by resisting China’s draconian regime, its decades of oppression in Tibet, and its nefarious influence globally.”
However, few have questioned the timing of the appointment and if the move is just cosmetic with the souring US-China relations in the background. Others have questioned if the appointment of an official below the rank of Under Secretary is a downgrade. “While we welcome the announcement of a new Special Coordinator and congratulate Assistant Secretary Destro on the position, the appointment of the Special Coordinator below the Under Secretary of State level will only make it more difficult for the Trump Administration implement longstanding US Tibet policy.
“Moreover, the appointment of the Special Coordinator at this level will be regarded by the Chinese government as a message that the Administration has downgraded the priority it gives to Tibet,” US based Tibet advocacy group, International Campaign for Tibet who have lobbied extensively on the matter stated.